New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: April, 2022

Quirky, Individualistic, Shapeshifting Catalan Songwriting From Singer Magali Sare

You have to have a sense of humor to call your album “Sponge.” Catalan singer Magali Sare‘s new release, Eponja – streaming at Spotify – is playful and a lot of fun, although there’s a recurrent dark undercurrent. That’s no surprise, considering that it’s a coming-of-age record . Sare is a very eclectic singer and can reach spectacular heights. She comes out of a classical background, but here she shifts mostly between carefree trip-hop, sprightly chamber pop and more techy sounds, along with upbeat Catalan folk. If Bjork was Catalan, she might sound something like this. Sare’s inspired, purposeful band includes pianist Marta Pons, guitarist Sebastià Gris, bassist Vic Moliner and drummer Dídak Fernàndez along with occasional strings.

The lilting opening lullaby is aptly titled Hola, Sare’s voice trailing off with a little brittle vibrato at the end of a phrase. She follows with Mañana, a coy, fingersnapping mashup of trip-hop and tango: as Sare observes, love and freedom are one and the same.

Crooner Salvador Sobral joins in a rousing duet on Sempre Vens Assim (roughly translated: Your Usual Steez), rising to a mighty peak with a choir of voices and a little jaunty salsa piano. Sare reaches from a pensively fingerpicked verse to soaring choruses, toward the top of her register, in the album’s title track. It’s a somewhat more sobering look back on how children develop an ethical sensibility (the song is a lot more fun than such an explanation would imply).

Sare packs torrents of lyrics into a quirky but pensive trip-hop cabaret tune in Malifetes (Mischief), an account of a conflicted adolescence. The key line, roughly translated, is “I was emotionally blackmailed.” The deliriously crescendoing love song ETC features flamenco band Las Migas: lively verse, swoony chorus.

The narrative hits a bump in the road with No Se, circling piano phrases anchoring Sare’s metaphorically loaded account of literally being left out in the cold. A spoken-word piece set to a trippy, echoey backdrop, No Se Cantar is an amusing catalog of reasons to sing (including simply to shake people up a little).

Inframon (Underworld) is a brightly resonant tableau in contrast with Sare’s lyrics about dealing with the dark side: “You just know you’ve been there once you’re out and you aren’t afraid of falling in,” essentially. She reverts to a twinkly trip-hop ambience in M’ai Vist Mai Plorar (I’ve Never Seen You Cry): “Watch the wind lift the broken veil,” Sare muses.

She follows with the Mediterranean-tinged, elegantly fingerpicked seduction scenario No Te Edat (rough translation: Timeless), and then Niña Mujer (Womanchild), a pensive psychedelic pop study in contradictions. She closes the album with its lone classical interlude, a stately, energetic canon. You don’t have to speak Catalan to enjoy this smartly individualistic, constantly shapeshifting collection.

Starkly Powerful Tunesmithing and Loaded Metaphors on Abigail Lapell’s New Album

“Time may judge this a classic,” this blog enthused about Abigail Lapell’s 2019 album Getaway. Raves like that as rare here as integrity in the Justin Trudeau cabinet. The small handful of albums which have earned that distinction include Karla Rose Moheno‘s Gone to Town and Hannah vs. the Many‘s All Our Heroes Drank Here, to name two of the best. How well does Lapell’s latest release Stolen Time – streaming at Bandcamp – stack up against her previous achievement? It doesn’t always have the same seething intensity, but Lapell’s songwriting is strong, and she has an excellent band behind her.

She opens it with the hypnotic, sparsely fingerpicked, subtly aphoristic Britfolk-flavored Land of Plenty. Dani Nash’s mutedly ominous, swaying drumbeat anchors the second track, Ships, Christine Bougie adding snarling electric guitar and sparse lapsteel alongside violist Rachael Cardiello and bassist Dan Fortin. It’s a metaphorically loaded departure ballad echoing a big influence in Lapell’s work, Sandy Denny.

Lapell moves to piano for Pines and its allusively ominous nature imagery. Scarlet Fever has stark oldtime blues inflections and plaintive viola from Cardiello. With “silver needles on the wall,” is this a subtle lockdown parable? Maybe.

All Dressed Up, a nimbly fingerpicked acoustic tune, may also have post-March 2020 subtext: “No way out of here, wake me up when the coast is clear,” Lapell instructs. I See Music, a stately piano waltz spiced with Ellwood Epps’ trumpet is next: “There’s no danger in a major key, there’s no harm in a harmony,” Lapell asserts.

She goes back to guitar for the similarly graceful Waterfall and follows with the album’s title track, Stolen Time, a swaying, crescendoing anthem lit up by Bougie’s incandescent lapsteel. “I dreamed I saw my baby, sewage in his veins, a rotten apple in his chest,” Lapell recalls in the next track: is this a tantalizingly brief, disquieting shipwreck tale, or is there more to the story?

“Dance in the ashes, gasoline and matches” figure heavily in the otherwise lilting, catchy nocturne Old Flames. Lapell winds up this often riveting, enigmatic album on an optimistic note with I Can’t Believe. It’s inspiring to see one of the sharpest songwriters in folk-adjacent sounds persevering under circumstances which have been less than encouraging for artists in general. Barring the unforeseen, Lapell’s next gig is an evening performance on May 21 at Paddlefest in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

Catchy, Spare, Purposefully Playful New Jazz From Ember and Special Guest Orrin Evans

Ember play a very individualistic, catchy style of original jazz. It’s riff-driven, but it’s not toe-tapping oldtimey swing. Chordless jazz trios tend to busy up the rhythm section – which isn’t such a bad thing if they’re committed to saying something beyond self-indulgence – but saxophonist Caleb Curtis, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza are purposeful to the point of being minimalist. If you’re looking for jazz you can hum along to at a comfortable midtempo pace, this is your jam. Their debut album No One Is Any One is streaming at Sunnyside Records.

A slinky, funky, loopy bassline anchors a sparse, airily cheery melody in the opening track, Reanimation (Zombie Tune). Sperrazza opens that one with a simple beat that’s practically trip-hop. Garabedian is the one to introduce the second tune, Josephine and Daphne, with his steady, pulsing, syncopated chords before Curtis enters, cautiously building s allusively chromatic tune like a low-key JD Allen as Sperrazza colors the sound with his rimshots and frosty cymbals.

The trio step lightly through a stark minor-key oldtime gospel riff and variations in the title cut, Curtis again echoing Allen’s most successful, incisive adventures in the blues. Moody sax drifts over minimal bass and drum accents as the group make their way into the wryly and aptly titled Pilot Light, then Sperrazza signals that the kettle is on the boil and in a second the band bubble and the steam starts to rise.

Likewise, the drummer stirs up a slightly restrained, spiraling rumble in Glass House: Curtis’ irrepressible sense of humor is priceless here. Peace of Deoxygenated Sleep is not a sinister Covid hospital protocol metaphor but an unselfconsciously gorgeous undersea nocturne, Curtis echoing guest pianist Orrin Evans’ spacious, lingering. distantly Indian-tinged lines

Evans takes his time before he gets his sprightly clusters underway in Thomas, a Thomas Chapin homage, Curtis and Sperrazza driving the uneasy modalities as a polyrhythmic intensity simmers and then boils over. A Sperrazza composition, Graceful Without Grace reflects a Christian spiritual concept that serendipity is ours for the taking, a prescient observation in these apocalyptic times. It turns out to be a cheerfully swinging, playful number with stairstepping riffs and a droll game of hide-and-seek.

The next-to-last track, Chia-Sized Standing Desk is actually the furthest thing from cartoonish: this moody rainy-day improvisation is the album’s darkest interlude. They bring the album full circle with a cheerfully strutting shout-out to American Splendor legend Harvey Pekar.

Fun fact: the trio worked up much of the material on this record in Prospect Park. This no doubt would have been more fun if the decision to work alfresco had not been forced on them by the shuttering of indoor rehearsal spaces in the mass psychosis following the March 2020 global coup attempt. Desperate times, etc.

Ember’s next free-world gig is May 13 at 7:30 PM at the Other Side Gallery, 2011 Genesee St in Utica, New York; cover is $20/$10 stud. And Evans is playing a rare trio gig with Matthew Parrish on bass and Vince Ector on drums tonight, April 28 at Mezzrow, with sets at 10:30 and midnight. Cover is $25 at the door. It’s an intimate space: if you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to peek in and see if there’s room (the club doesn’t have a phone).

Giftshop Bring Their Catchy, Powerful Tunesmithing to a Benefit for Ukraine on the 30th

Giftshop are a throwback to an era when loud guitar-driven three-minute songs were an art form. This blog has called the band the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers. At this point in their career, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re a crunchier version of the Go-Go’s. Their worldview is sharp, their songwriting is wickedly catchy and retro in a classic late 70s CBGB-style powerpop vein, and frontwoman Meghan Taylor has one of the most memorable, powerful wails of any singer in New York They’re headlining a benefit for Ukraine this weekend at Otto’s at around 9 PM on April 30. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation with all proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine. The Sloe Guns, who have been one of New York’s smartest Americana bands for going on two decades, play before at around 8.

Giftshop also know know something about marketing: practically their entire output since 2012 is up at their music page as a free download, and all of it is worth owning. This is the giftshop that keeps on giving! Their most recent singles are particularly choice. The newest and best one is More Than That, a searing reminiscence of the “wasted time and wasted years” since March of 2020, referencing Big Pharma fearmongering and “weaponized hugs.” It could be the best song of the year so far.

Another good one is Kewl With Me, a pulsing, riff-driven early new wave era-style number and showcase for Taylor’s powerful pipes. Matt Santoro varies his guitar textures from jangle to roar over Damian Eckstein’s buzzy bass and Jordan Kramer’s drums in Stylish Junkie, a snarling, sarcastic slap upside of the head of a girl who puts “the under in underwear.”

Their most recent album, Biginastoria came out in 2019. It’s one catchy, tantalizingly brief nonconformist anthem after another, They open it with We Want You, a sarcastically marching, synthy new wave tune, then Taylor takes aim at narcissistic trendoid groupthink in Same: “The rest of us just don’t buy in,” is the mantra.

They reach an early X-style punk stomp in Stacked, a dig at phony rebels, and then hit a hardcore sprint in Things I Feel, over in less than a minute and a half. They close with a deliciously rampaging cover of the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades – it ranks with the Avengers’ version of Paint It Black.

Sami Stevens Brings Her Blue-Flame Soul Intensity to the Lower East Side

Sami Stevens was sixteen when she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park. That’s a gig that’s just as difficult to get as it is to pull off. If there’s video evidence, it’s well hidden, which is too bad. It’s a fair bet that she hit it out of the park, sometime around the tail end of the Tito Francona era, in the years when the Red Sox were struggling to sustain the level they’d reached after their 2007 world championship.

More recently, Stevens has become one of the most electrifying singers in New York. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in faux-Italian psychedelic soundtrack band Tredici Bacci, and before the lockdown held down a popular residency at the Parkside in Ditmas Park. She’s back at an old haunt, the small room at the Rockwood in a couple of days, at 8 PM on April 28.

Stevens put out the full-length album And I’m Right in 2017 with her band And the Man I Love, which is still up at Bandcamp. The production is refreshingly oldschool, organic and features a full band with horns, shades of early Lake Street Dive. Stevens’ songwriting isn’t constrained to four minutes or less, and her songs are spiced with thoughtful sax solos and keyboard work (Stevens plays piano; it’s not clear if that’s her on the record). The title track to that one is a good indication of the kind of simmering intensity she channels onstage, a big, wounded, gospel-tinged struggler’s anthem in 6/8 time.

Stevens works a slinky/slashing dichotomy in Over and Over, another catchy, expansive ballad. She takes a more breathily expressive approach to Baby Blue, a retro Bill Withers-style tune, then follows a simmering, gospel-fueled upward trajectory in Where Will I Find My Best Friend. Then she picks up the pace with A Child They Said Was Mine, a parable of urban disquiet that rings just as true now

There’s also the catchy, steady self-empowerment strut Learn to Love, with its fluttery horns and starry keys; She Is God, a spine-tingling, impassioned shout-out to everyday female determination; and a slightly truncated single version of the title cut. If you missed this the first time around, it’s one of the most imaginative, purist albums of soul music released in the past several years.

Stevens’ most recent release is a short album, Make Your Mind, which she put out in the fall of 2020 and is also up at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more low-key, trippy and neosoul-oriented.

A Rare, Distinctive Male Jazz Vocal Record From Michael Stephenson

Michael Stephenson is a rarity: an individualist male jazz singer. In a world that’s probably about 95 percent women at this point, he distinguishes himself with his no-nonsense baritone and devious sense of humor. You would think that more dudes with his talents would have gone into the field, but at the moment Stephenson pretty much has the floor to himself. And he’s a competent tenor saxophonist as well. His latest album Michael Stephenson Meets the Alexander Claffy Trio is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is jazz as entertainment. He and the group – Claffy on bass, Julius Rodriguez on piano and Itay Morchi on drums, with special guest Benny Benack III on trumpet – are often a party in a box. They open the record with a mostly bass-and-vocal duo version of Sweet Lorraine: Stephenson shows off that he can cut loose on the mic in a split second, and that’s about it. Then things get really amusing with a slyly swinging take of Ray Charles’ Greenbacks, which as Stephenson sings it, are coated in chlorophyll…or maybe something else. No spoilers. Stephenson and Benack’s solos give it a muscular midsection.

Rodriguez and Morchi spiral around, building symphonic intensity to introduce a tightly pulsing version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Happening Brother?, giving voice to indomitability in the face of unrest. How times change, huh?

The group reinvent When a Man Loves a Woman as a straightforward midtempo swing tune: Rodriguez adds judicious gospel touches, with an exuberant solo from Benack. Stephenson and Claffy build intensity with a rubato-ish intro to On the Street Where You Live. then they swing it with a low-key simmer, Rodriguez’s hard-hitting solo giving way to Claffy’s balletesque break.

Stephenson resists reaching for the rafters in a slowly crescendoing take of the Tennessee Waltz, Rodriguez reinventing it with a neoromantic gleam. Stephenson’s smoky, purposeful tenor solo gives Benack a springboard to go for broke with his mute in Ain’t That Love, then he moves to the mic for an emphatic last chorus.

Polka Dots and Moonbeams is probably the last number you would expect a guy to sing: the band give it a lush nocturnal atmosphere, but this is a tough sell, and it’s out of place on what’s otherwise a good party record. On the other hand, the group’s cascading cover of Dionne Warwick’s Can’t Hide Love is a smashing success, Rodriguez fueling the inferno.

The group have fun with Ben Webster’s Did You Call Her Today?, keeping it stealthy until Benack’s trumpet pierces the surface like a missile from a submarine. Stephenson saves his most emotive vocal for his closing duo take of For All We Know with Rodriguez. It’s anybody’s guess where Stephenson is playing next – he’s quite the mystery man on the web – but Benack is leading a quintet at Smalls at 10:30 PM and then hosting the midnight jam session afterward on April 27. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Smart, Sarcastic Punk Band the OC Rippers Hit Otto’s This Weekend

This Friday night, April 29 there’s a solidly good punk rock bill in the back room at Otto’s. Headliners the No-Heads work an acrid late 70s/early 80s postpunk sound that sometimes rumbles into hardcore. Before them on the bill at 11 PM are the Slaughter Boys, a San Diego act with short songs and a straight-up melodic sound.

From what’s up at the OC Rippers’ Bandcamp page, the New Jersey band, who play the 10 PM slot, are the highlight of the night. Big Brotha, the A-side of their latest single sounds like the Dead Boys covering the Stooges. On the band’s Born to Fuck ep from the fall of last year, they go for more of a pummeling Raw Power Stooges sound.

They also put out a full-length cassette, Wasteland Blues, in the spring of last year which is up at Bandcamp. That one’s thrashier, with the kind of short songs you might expect from a band who’ve covered legendary/obscore Long Island punks the Alan Millman Sect. There’s a dance tune (Do the Whip), some tasty, menacing chromatic stomp (Brats), some sarcastic hardcore, and Stoogoid rampages (the cleverly shapeshifting Feed Me and the funny, bass-driven Born in Waco)

Never Coming Down sounds like Sham 69 with an American accent. The best song on the record is Forced Vaccination, which speaks for itself with its creepy, techy touches.

There’s also a mystery band opening the night at 9 who call themselves the Kartel; presumably, they are not the excellent Greek metal band. One thing that is not a mystery is that the door goon at Otto’s cards everybody. You could be eighty with white hair and on a walker and you would have to show ID. What’s more is that they have an ID scanner and use it mercilessly. Thankfully, ID scanners don’t work on passports, so if you’re going, bring yours.

And from what we know now about the rollout of obedience programs in the years leading up to the 2020 global fascist takeover, it appears that the East Village was a pilot program for Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum’s Glate Leeset. Right around the end of 2009, all of a sudden, bars and restaurants in the area started using ID scanners. It was a gimmick that never caught on anywhere else in town until Andrew Cuomo’s infamous vaxxport from the summer of 2021.

Ayumi Ishito Brings an Adventurous, Outside-the-Box Trio to Chinatown

Even in communities that support the arts, jazz musicians often get pushed to the fringes. The last two years’ insanity in New York has exponentially increased that marginalization for artists in general. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito has been one of the more resourceful players in town: she was one of the first to resume performing during the brief window of opportunity in the summer of 2021, and she’s maintained a steady schedule in recent months playing a lot of out-of-the-way venues as restrictions have been dropped. Her next gig dovetails with both her adventurous improvisational sensibility and her most recent album as a leader. She’s opening a twinbill on April 26 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery with soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. They’re followed by a second trio with Aaron Edgcomb on percussion, Priya Carlberg on vocals and David Leon on sax. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most experimentally ambitious release to date, a mix of trippy electroacoustic pieces featuring Theo Woodward on keys and vocals, Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. Jake Strauss doubling on guitar and bass and Steven Bartashev on drums.

Squiggles quickly give way to a collective shimmer and fragmentary acoustic and electric guitar riffs as the first number, Looking Through Ice drifts along, Woodward adding Indian inflections with his vocalese. Beyond the guitar and vocals, it’s hard to distinguish the rest of the instruments – Ishito using her pedalboard here – until Strauss introduces a gently swaying, Grateful Dead-like theme and Bartashev picks up the clave with his echoey tumbles.

Shifting sheets, dopplers and warpy textures drift through the mix in the second track, Hum Infinite. Strauss finds a center and builds around it, on bass; Ishito’s wry, dry bursts evoke a EWI. The group slowly reach toward an organ soul tune, then back away as Ishito emerges acerbically from behind the liquid crystal sheen.

Track three, Misspoke is irresistibly funny, Ishito and Woodward chewing the scenery, impersonating instruments real and imagined. Strauss’ blippy bass and Bartashev’s tightly staggered drumming propel Folly to the Fullest to tongue-in-cheek hints of a boudoir soul tune, Ishito floating overhead,

Night Chant is an entertaining contrast in starry, woozy electronic textures and goofy wah-wah phrasing from Ishito: stoner electro-jazz as fully concretized as it gets. The final cut, Constellation Ceiling, is a launching pad for Ishito’s most amusing indulgences with the wah,, eventually coalescing into a bit of a triumphant strut, We need more unserious improvisational music like this.

Sunday Singles – A Bombshell and a Movie This Time

In times like these, everybody is being called on to think outside the box, this blog included. That’s why today’s list of brief items includes a hilarious short film, a sobering little news bulletin and a schoolgirl speaking truth to power. As usual, click on artist or author names for their webpages, click on titles for audio or video.

Let’s start with the bombshell, which some of you have undoubtedly seen by now since Project Veritas is the #1 most-watched channel on Telegram. Until now, we haven’t seen a lot of big pharma whistleblowers, but this leaked Zoom call from the bowels of AstraZeneca on December 3,. 2020 is damning as hell. In the context of pitching a monoclonal antibody product as a potential Covid treatment, CEO Pascal Soriot cops to the fact that “There are millions of people in the world that will need a protection that cannot be coming from a vaccine.” Kaboom. Nuremberg 2.0, here we come.

Now a break for music with one of this blog’s alltime favorites: Everything But the Girl doing Little Hitler, a soaring, soulful anthem from their lavishly orchestrated 1986 album Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight.

Just to be clear, EBTG singer Tracey Thorn is being sarcastic when she sings “Every woman loves a fascist.” The thirteen-year-old Australian girl in this anonymous Rumble video clearly doesn’t, as she elegantly and articulately rips Klaus Schwab a new one. Who says all the kids today are sheeple!

For practically two years now, Dr. Pam Popper – author of the very first plandemic expose, COVID Operation and founder of Make Americans Free Again – has been putting out an endless series of easily digestible short videos on the news of the day. This one is not meant to scare but to inform. As she explains, there’s a “smart” health card currently being developed by a sinister coalition including Microsoft, Salesforce.com and, surprisingly, the Mayo Clinic. To cut to the chase, it’s a platform for a communist Chinese-style social credit scheme, scheduled to be deployed on a state-by-state basis. As of today, Arizona, Nevada and Utah are already on board, with West Virginia, Oklahoma and South Carolina close behind…unless, of course, people refuse to comply.. Deets in brief at Popper’s must-watch Rumble channel.

OK, now that we’ve gotten most all of the serious stuff out of the way, here’s a very funny short film. In just under thirty minutes, Doc Tracy is a venomously amusing mashup (and sometimes a parody) of The Matrix, Project Veritas and film noir in general. Listen as none other than Dr. Simone Gold chews the scenery in her role as a quasi-Switch! Watch as our hero tracks down the real-life Kristina Lawson, head of the California Medical Board, who as it turns out isn’t even a doctor! You can’t make this stuff up.

The Neighborhood Brats Blast Through Bushwick

The difference between the Neighborhood Brats and a lot of punk bands is that the Brats are more musically imaginative than most. Guitarist George Rager plays big, fat, blasting chords, not just crunchy little two-string power chords, and chooses his spots for solos. Frontwoman Jenny Angelillo projects with a big, powerful wail; likewise, the group’s sound is a throwback to classic first-wave bands like the Avengers, Dead Kennedys and Adverts. There’s been some turnover in the rhythm section, but the current one is as strong as ever, They’re making a rare New York stop on April 26 at 7 PM at Our Wicked Lady; cover is fifteen bucks at the door. There’s a screamo band on afterward who are good with song titles but not so good with music.

The Brats’ latest album Confines of Life – streaming at Bandcamp – came out about a year ago. It’s arguably their strongest release so far, both musically and lyrically. Rager’s multitracked, overdriven tube-amp guitar sonics are especially juicy this time out. As usual, they don’t shy away from disturbing issues. They tackle eco-disaster in Who Took the Rain, the catchy opening track, then take a venomous sprint through Signs and Semantics, Rager tossing in a couple of wry Dead Kennedys references.

Angelillo raises a middle finger to the objectification of women in Miss America Pageant while Rager shifts from Flamin’ Groovies jangle to fullscale roar. “I am not a model, I don’t act,” she wails in FFBF, which is over in less than a minute and a half. Transitional Housing is a spot-on, funny dismissal of the homeless-industrial complex, followed by We’ll Find You. Is this about surveillance, or us finding each other? Hard to tell.

The band reach hardcore escape velocity in Harvey Weinstein (Is a Symptom), then shift to ghoulabilly for the catchy instrumental All Nazis Must Die. It’s hard to think of a more spot-on appraisal of the state of the world right now than I Weep for the Future and its macabre undercurrent.

The longest and most musically interesting anthem on the record is Migraines: you can hear echoes of PiL and the Buzzcocks along with a peak-era DKs acidity. “All you do is talk and talk, I’m not standing quiet in the shadows,” Angelillo sings in next-to-last track, LeBron James. They wind up the record by punking the hell out of Joan Jett’s I Want You. This is one of the best rock records of the past several months.